Where’s the Skull?

The Punisher (1989) is Punisher in name only. I’ve always considered myself to be a huge Marvel comics fan, but the Punisher was always in a separate category for me. The Punisher was an unexpected success due to his violent war on crime, willingness to kill, and deadly skull logo. I didn’t see a single film adaptation until I was in my late teens, but I knew enough about the anti-hero to have my usual fan expectations. The Punisher (1989) is the second poorly made Marvel adaptation after the disaster that was Howard the Duck.

After Marvel foolishly sold their rights to New World Pictures, The Punisher (1989) was thrown together. Resembling a generic 80’s action movie more than a superhero flick. Dolph Lundgren is an intimidating action giant who works as Frank Castle/The Punisher, but they don’t even use his famous skull logo. The most badass symbol in comic book history. It’s not enough to dress in black, have an arsenal of guns, and be tormented by the death of his family. Of course there are other changes that make less sense. Like changing Frank from an ex-soldier to an ex-cop.

As well as having him live naked in the sewers, deliver brooding monologues, and get information from a drunk. You get what you expect from a Lundgren performance. Although a lot of attention is given to a police officer played by Louis Gossett Jr. tracking him down, mob bosses, bad child actors, and the Yakuza. The Punisher only shows up to deliver near constant shootouts and name drop Batman. The Punisher (1989) was so bland it wasn’t even released worldwide, but it comes close enough to capturing the anti-hero in terms of body count.

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The Punisher rides

P.S. Since copies are scarce, I’ve supplied the full movie underneath.

Old Man Rambo

Rambo: Last Blood signals the end of Sylvester Stallone’s action hero John Rambo. Although the full circle title makes it clear that this is the last blood to be spilt, Last Blood doesn’t feel like finale material. Rambo went from defending himself against police in a small town, to fighting wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Burma. Somehow fighting a drug cartel in Mexico wasn’t the conclusion I imagined. Stallone is still in fighting shape, but he’s dropped almost all of Rambo’s trademarks. His hair isn’t long and he doesn’t wear his iconic headband. He just looks like older Sly with a bow & arrow.

Based on the reception, I braced myself for something more violent than Rambo. The reviews couldn’t be more exaggerated. Last Blood is no more graphic than an average slasher flick. It’s more of a personal story with a whole lot of calm before the storm. Rambo is at his home in Arizona. Living with his housekeeper and surrogate daughter Gabriela. After everything he’s been through, Rambo’s become a rancher with a close family. I hate to always make the comparison, but the plot is basically an R rated Taken.

Gabriela is taken by a despicable drug cartel and forced into human trafficking. I’m not sure why Last Blood was accused of anything, because there are criminals like this who exist. Rambo’s enemies are no different than the one’s he’s faced in the past. When they take away his happiness, Rambo seeks revenge by rigging his house full of booby traps. It’s really the final fight that’s the bloodiest, but all the brutal dismemberment is never lingered on. Except for the heart stopping final moments. Rambo: Last Blood is too short and inconsequential to feel like a suitable close to an iconic character.

5. Rambo Last Blood

John Rambo takes aim

Preceded by: Rambo

The Bloodshed Continues

Rambo is the misguided 20 year return for Vietnam vet John Rambo. By this point in his career, Sylvester Stallone began to reevaluate his older work. Even though we all thought he was crazy to be doing it at his age. He did get back into fighting shape and still knows how to shoot an arrow, but the shirt stays on. Although Rocky Balboa was a success, the simply titled Rambo shouldn’t have been made the way it was.

The reason for the gap between Rambo III was Stallone’s lack of a good story to work with. Eventually returning and directing like everything else he starred in at the time. The idea was to make a Rambo film with Rambo’s direction. No wonder it ended up being one of the most violent movies ever made. Which is why I could barely be entertained by it. Rambo is way too realistic in its depiction of war brutality. You just can’t change the world with aย Rambo movie. Nobody wants to see women or children being killed and abused. It’s sad to know it exists, but it crosses the line even for a franchise like this.

John Rambo is brought out of his peaceful life to transport Christian missionaries to Burma. Taking the action to a very real warzone. Without Trautman to keep him centered, Rambo is more brutal than ever in his mercenary rescue mission. Although his despicable enemies deserve it, the action is just too excessive to stomach. Decapitating, cutting through people with a mounted machine gun, and pulling out the leaders intestines in a particularly bloody finale. Rambo may be trying to say something, but I’m too disgusted to hear it.

4. Rambo

John Rambo aims his arrow

Preceded by: Rambo III & Followed by: Rambo: Last Blood

The Kill Count Rises

Rambo III brings back everyone’s favorite one man war hero. By this point, the very R rated John Rambo has appeared in comics, video games, and even the animated kid’s show Rambo: The Force of Freedom. The 80’s were an interesting time, but Rambo: First Blood Part II was just that popular. Sylvester Stallone is back and more jacked than ever. He’s still a co-writer, but this time he only managed to win Worst Actor for Rambo III.

This time all the action is taken from the Vietnam jungle to the Afghanistan desert. Now focusing on the Soviet-Afghan War that took place at the time. With his freedom in tact, John Rambo attempts to live a quiet life in Thailand. With the occasional stick fight here and there. Unfortunately his old friend and commanding officer Colonel Trautman just can’t stop coming to him with missions. Rambo refuses to join Trautman in Afghanistan, but goes in to save him when he’s captured. Agreeing to the embassy’s terms to go in alone. You’d actually be surprised at how long it takes for Rambo to do any killing.

When he does, Rambo wastes no time raking up the body count by knife, by gun, or by any means necessary. Rambo’s war on the Soviets sees him team up with Trautman and Afghan fighters as well. Giving Richard Crenna the most screen time he’s had since Trautman is now part of the action. If you thought Part II was insane, Rambo fires turrets on enemies, rides a horse, blows up a helicopter with a bow & arrow, and rams a tank into a gunship. Rambo III delivers a just as explosive end to Rambo’s 80’s adventures.

3. Rambo III

John Rambo fights alongside Colonel Trautman

Preceded by: Rambo: First Blood Part II & Followed by: Rambo

One Man Army

Rambo: First Blood Part II does a complete 180. Shifting from personal anti-war drama to off the wall war fueled action in an instant. Really it’s Part II that people are referring to when they think 80’s action hero John Rambo. In all his muscular, guntotting, shirtless, red headband wearing glory. With Rambo not killed off, Sylvester Stallone was free to make the sequel. This time writing most of the script himself. Along with the unexpected screenplay credit of James Cameron. You can tell where his influence came in, but this is still a mark on his career.

Since Part II won the Razzie for Worst Screenplay, Worst Actor, Worst Original Song, and even Worst Picture. Yet the sequel is the one with the biggest lasting impact. John Rambo is released from prison with the promise of being pardoned in exchange for assisting in the post-Vietnam War POW/MIA crisis. Colonel Trautman is there to oversee the mission along with U.S. government officials. With strict orders not to interfere, Rambo wastes no time rescuing a prisoner. Joining him is lovely Vietnamese contact/love interest Co Bao. When his own men betray his trust and the woman he loves is killed, Rambo really becomes a one man army.

Shooting down any Vietnamese or Soviet forces in his way. Fighting by air in a helicopter, by sea on a boat, and by land running through the jungle. Seeing Rambo shoot down a helicopter with a rocket launcher and blow up an enemy with a bow & arrow is just too awesome not to enjoy. You can tell Stallone wrote Rambo’s final speech since it’s the same kind of cringy message found in the equally ridiculed Rocky IV. Rambo: First Blood Part II is one of the best mindless action flicks you’ll ever see.

2. Rambo the First Blood Part II

John Rambo prepares for war

Preceded by: First Blood & Followed by: Rambo III

The First Has Less Blood

First Blood may come as a shock to people who know Rambo’s hyper violent reputation. John Rambo is the second most iconic character Sylvester Stallone has ever played (after Rocky of course). First Blood was actually released the same year as Rocky III. As the paragon of guerrilla warfare himself, there was no way to avoid hearing about Rambo growing up. Yet Stallone’s most famous action role was something I never watched at a young age. First Blood was based on a 70’s novel and set the tone for 80’s action movies with muscular stars. Stallone was drawn to the project and ended up writing part of it himself.

First Blood was not at all what I was expecting. If you’re expecting a crazy bloodbath, First Blood is not that kind of action movie. It’s a lot darker and way more somber. His trademark headband isn’t even red yet. John Rambo is just a lonely Vietnam War veteran who drifts into Hope, Washington where there is no hope. All he finds is persistent harassment from corrupt small time police officers. Specifically Sheriff Teasle, who doesn’t like him because of his service. Their mistreatment of Rambo brings all his trauma flooding back. Igniting a war between Rambo and the police.

What’s really shocking is that First Blood has a body count of one. One officer is inadvertently killed. All Rambo does is set traps, fire warning shots, and brandish his knife. His former commanding officer Colonel Trautman is called in to assist as he’s the only man who knows what they’re up against. Rambo’s final gut wrenching war speech is some of Stallone’s best acting. Although Rambo was originally meant to die, it’s better that he lived to see another fight. First Blood is different, but there’s no doubt that it’s the smartest film in the series.

1. First Blood

John Rambo tries to survive

Followed by: Rambo: First Blood Part II

The Secret of Manderley

Rebecca is shockingly the only film from acclaimed director Alfred Hitchcock that won Best Picture. In spite of his reputation, Hitchcock never won a competitive Oscar in his storied career. The Oscar instead went to famed producer David O. Selznick. After viewing every popular movie from Hitchcock, the only way to go was backwards. Rebecca was also the first Hollywood movie from the filmmaker. Launching his 4 decade career in America. Rebecca is from a gothic novel that Selznick required to be as faithful as possible. That didn’t stop part of it from becoming quite risque for a 1940 film.

Rebecca is sort of split in three distinct parts. The first act is a romance between the wealthy Maxim de Winter and the unnamed companion for hire that would become his wife. This was surprisingly the first movie I’ve seen with screen legends Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Their relationship has a few warning signs, but she agrees to the marriage anyway. The second act is the new Mrs. de Winter adjusting to her confusing new life at Manderley manor.

What’s clever about her not having a name is that Maxim’s deceased first wife Rebecca is truly the main character. Her lingering presence can be felt in almost every scene. Mrs. Danvers is a creepy housekeeper who really gives Maxim’s bride a hard time. It turns out she was obsessed with Rebecca in a way that’s clearly hinting at a lesbian infatuation. Judith Anderson deserved her Oscar nod. Just like the movie deserved its second Oscar for Cinematography. The dark atmosphere laid the groundwork for Hitchcock’s later work. The third act is more of a murder mystery/courtroom drama with many twists and a fiery conclusion. Rebecca is worth obsessing over.

Rebecca

Mrs. Danvers (right) torments Mrs. de Winter (left)

Really Big Shark

The Meg is either too bad to be a good shark attack movie or too good to be a bad shark attack movie. Either way it never seems to know which one it wants to be. To the point it’s never consistently entertaining. All I know is that a premise like this should have been a lot more cheesy in a dumb fun kind of way. The Meg captured my attention the moment I saw the trailer. As someone who wasn’t aware Megalodons existed, the concept of an insanely large shark had numerous possibilities.

The Meg sorta squanders it on a clean PG-13 story with a mishmash celebrity crew at the center. Along with a lot of attention given to the Chinese market to increase box-office numbers. All of it seemed to work out since The Meg was just as much of a summer blockbuster as other shark attack movies. Although the book series sounds way more insane, the movie settles on the action stylings of self-serious Jason Statham. Rescue diver Jonas Taylor rescues someone from the depths of the ocean, then does the exact same thing again. Discovering the fabled Meg underneath.

You’d think a shark that big would be a major threat, but it’s really only that size to look intimidating for the poster and trailers. There’s also a twist that reduces the uniqueness of the creature. Sure the Meg attacks a boat and populated beach, but the body count is no more than your typical shark flick. The only genuinely awesome moment is Statham taking out the titanic shark all by himself. The Meg has the terrifying monster, now if only it had a T-Rex to face like in the book.

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The Meg strikes

Shark Island

The Shallows is one of the best shark attack movies not named Jaws. I genuinely didn’t know what to expect from a survival movie like this. Shark attacks had been done so many times and it’s always tricky to pull off a great lone star movie. I also hadn’t seen Blake Lively in enough to know whether she could pull off a role like this. My mom was actually the one who recommended The Shallows. After seeing it on TV and calling it one of the best survival movies she’s seen.

The Shallows was a summer success and that was enough for me. I do appreciate the fact that Blake Lively had an acclaimed film the same year as her husband. The Shallows has the simple premise of a medical student named Nancy going surfing in a special, if secluded beach paradise. The location is beautiful and seeing Blake Lively in a bikini is an added bonus. But a tropical paradise can quickly become a nightmare. As a great white shark attacks the shallow water.

Resulting in Nancy injuring her leg, locals being devoured, and the shark staying close by due to a whale carcass. Leading to a nail biting fight for survival where Nancy has to put her medical training to work and use what little she brought with her. Fortunately a scene stealing injured seagull keeps her company. The final face off is an intense blood in the water fight to the death that makes the whole ordeal worth it. The Shallows is far from your typical creature feature.

the-shallows

Nancy is stalked by a shark

Send in the Clones

The 6th Day presents the question, what if scientists were successfully able to clone a human being? An ethical question that will clearly never become a reality. At least not in the way it’s always been depicted in sci-fi. The 6th Day is named after a passage from Genesis in the Bible. Since God created man on the sixth day of creation. The movie itself uses the passage as the moral reason why cloning humans is illegal.

In the distant future of 2015, animals are commercially cloned in a messed up process called RePet. Now you never have to explain death to a child. There are also sexy virtual girlfriends, holograms, self-driving cars, and creepy realistic robot dolls. I’m sure I would’ve known it existed, but I only watched The 6th Day for Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was his first action film of the 2000’s. Arnie can always enhance a generic role, but that can only go so far sometimes. His character, of course named Adam, is unknowingly cloned during an eye examine.

Clones can be identified by dots under their eyelids. He wakes up to find a clone with his wife and daughter. Adam is promptly marked for death by the company that illegally made the clone. A young Terry Crews makes his debut playing one of the assassins. There are gun fights, car chases, and mostly standard fight scenes. Along with a few good Arnie zingers. Having him cloned means two Schwarzenegger performances for the price of one. The 6th Day has a genuinely interesting premise, but not always the best material to make it stand out.

The 6th Day

Adam gets cloned